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J Shep / Blog

For all independent artists

Hey guys! As some of you may or may not know, I started off on my quest to be an artist while I was a student at Columbia College in 2001. This is where I began writing and finding my creative niche with my peers, some of whom are life-long friends. As I began to progress, I did what any hungry artist would do...I set out on a journey to create, publish, and sell my own work (ie make a cd). This first work was completed and released in January 2005 with much fanfare from those who were in my circle (family, friends, church, other musicians). I saved and spent well over $13,000 of my own money to make it happen. I sold tickets to my recording for $10 and I roughly had 500 people in attendance. I was new to the process, but what I understood was that I had to have a do it yourself mentality.

I've said all that to set this up...quite frankly I believe that independent artists have gotten lazy. There seems to be a lack of understanding of what steps to take regarding funding and budgeting correctly for a project. With the advent of crowd funding sites like kick starter, artists get the bright idea that they're going to raise $10,000 so they can produce they're cd. I chuckle to myself when I see this, b/c crowd funding is like raising an offering at church. You're just doing it over the Internet. Indie artists I'm here to tell you the best way to raise money...you read??? Clear out your bank account, work a 2nd job, sell dinners!!! Ultimately invest in yourself!!!! The harsh reality is that while you may be the next great singing sensation, nobody cares that much about you to give you $10,000. You can "name it and claim it" all you want, but you got to be willing to lose everything for this! These are the toughest of economic times, and the last thing that people have is disposable income to give to an unproven commodity. The real question is what are you giving people in return? A signed cd? A tshirt? A performance at their house? Think about it.... The people who have been successful on crowd funding sites have already built a fan base. They already lost it all, got some more, lost it again, but have continued to invest in their dream 1st. We also got to know where to spend our dollars as well. Don't pump all your money in production costs. That isn't a wise move. If your budget is $15,000 for production, then your marketing/promotions budget needs to be at least $30,000. This is real talk from your boy. Don't make the same mistakes that I did. Yeah I used my own money to produce and release my own projects but I sepent very little on the back end putting them out. My attitude was somebody is going to hear this and love and want to sign me. Part of that did happen, but the deals that I was offered were so horrible I would have lost way more had I signed. Ok...I'm going to wrap this up, but I just want to reiterate that doing it yourself pays off in the end...believe in your dreams and goals and trust me success will eventually find you. Find ways to give something away. Produce a quality single and have people listen to it first...don't sell if you have promoted or properly introduces yourself to the marketplace. Lastly this is a process. It's not for the weak-minded or the overly erratic or emotional. Pacing yourself through the ups and downs will get you through. Pray, pray, pray a lot!!!!!! I hope this helps someone.

J shep

Understanding what time it is

I recently attended an event where there were some major Gospel acts performing. Now I won't name their names, but they were amongst the elite, so you can guess for yourself. The crowd was pretty much settled in their seats, and ready to hear a great show. The host for the evening, who is a major artist proceeds to give the "house rules". No pictures, no videos on your phone, no recording on your phone...blah, blah, blah...My wife and I are thinking to ourselves is this 1995??? It was a bit annoying, but the show starts, and we're loving every minute of it. In between the first 2 artist the host comes out again and goes on and on and on about videos, pictures, and recordings. Saying that it takes money out of the pocket of the artists...Last I checked, no artist on that ticket was struggling to get radio spins, or gigs. I felt like taking the mic and telling her, people aren't trying to capitalize off the artist, their trying to capture the moment. I'm sorry, but artist from the old school don't understand the new model. This is the era of the social media...who's where doing what? I'm at the Beyonce concert, and I'm sending a twitpic of B as she walks by. Is Beyonce taking my phone from me???? NO!!!!! Because she gets it! Your popularity spreads when you take these walls down. It's too bad that Gospel is always the last to get on board. I won't be though...All new artist, give your music away! Let people youtube you! Don't get caught up in the people who long for the good ole days, because they ain't never coming back!

Dealing with writer's block

As a songwriter, the one thing that I've typically heard from other writers is that writer's block is one of the most frustrating thing to go thru. I can honestly say that I have had my share of writers block. After the completion of my 1st album in 2005, I got so comfortable performing the songs on my album, that I didn't take the time to write anything for well over a year. It wasn't until I had been approached to write for several artists that I decided to pick up the pen again and get to writing again. The only thing was that I literally felt like I had nothing to write about! This was my 1st case of writer's block. This was so unusual to me, because I used to be able to crank out a song in 30min! My song "How Great Thou Art" was written at 3am as I woke out of my sleep! I was done writing it by 3:35am, and that is a song considered by many to be my best. So as a young writer, I felt that I was going to crank every song out like that...didn't happen! Long story short, my 1st case of block didn't last that long. I just stayed consistent with finding strong melodies and hooks...by the time I knew it I was back in the groove. Since then, I have gone thru several longer periods of block, and it became harder and harder to come out of. One reason why is I feel like I put too much pressure to write something perfect or try to write something to impress someone in the industry! HUGE MISTAKE!!! Never write to impress, write to EXPRESS!!! It's all about the expression of thought and sounds...remember, people's opinions are subjective. One method that I started using was finding a theme to focus on to write about. After locking in on that theme, I then just begin to write down every single thought that comes into my head (no matter how random it was). For example...if you are writing about heartbreak, then just start jotting down...(love, heartache, loneliness, empty, confused, tempted, chicken, waffles)...lol...writing down everything in your head will help you clear up your thoughts. Once you've done that, find one word or phrase that really sticks out to you, and then begin to write down other words or phrases that rhyme...for example (piece of my heart...never wanna be apart...loved you from the start...) I know it may be a little corny, but the beautiful thing is that people will only hear the final product! Hope this helps someone! Let me know what you think...

Peace and blessings

J Shep

10yrs and counting in the music biz

It's hard for me to believe, but this year marks 10 years that I've launched myself in this business we call music. So much has changed in my life since the day I walked across that stage and received my BA in music from Columbia College. As I think about it, I was a 21 year old, bright eyed and bushy-tailed kid who was waiting on his big break! I couldn't wait for someone "important" to hear my songs and sign me to a lucrative record deal. As time went on, I enjoyed some pretty good success, but not quite to the level that I had dreamed of. But even as I think about it, so much has changed about music and the business of music. The advent of itunes, the ipod, and the demise of record stores have all happen within these past 10yrs...the new social media has given musicians like myself an outlet to get our music, opinions, and buzz out to the listening public. Sites like this and facebook have given the "indie" musician unlimited access in publicizing their work. However, I do feel that there is a down side. More and more people are coming out of the woodwork and calling themselves artists and musicians. So much random crap is literally flooding these sites that it makes the serious artists harder to find or lose credibility. There have been times within these 10yrs when I wanted to call it quits. I just didn't want to try anymore...rejection after rejection. Random gig after random gig. Not having many people that you can trust. This industry can swallow you up whole if you let it. I do realize that I have a place, and I won't stop ever! When my dream is fulfilled, I will work even harder to get the next dream off the ground. I know this may be a bit of a ramble, but if you're reading this, I just want you to know that you can't give up! I'm 10yrs in, with no record deal in hand or pending. No platinum selling album. No number 1 song...YET! I know that these things will happen for me and they will for you! Never stop! This industry needs you!!!

Peace and blessings J Shep